We all know this problem: the desire to discover new places in the world, see as much as you can, but without much cash. So what do most backpackers do? They save their money on food: fast food, instant noodles or sandwiches. Anything that‘s easy to prepare and that fills your tummy.
But when I was in Sydney, I discovered a place where you can get really good restaurant food, even on a small travel budget. Lentil as Anything is a non-profit-making organisation which runs six pay-as-you-feel restaurants in Australia. Their philosophy is that everyone should have the opportunity to eat out and be social, regardless of their financial situation.
When you enter the restaurant, it’s a warm and welcoming atmosphere. The furniture is simple but modern, designed with much love and creativity. The walls are covered with paintings and other artwork. Every table has a menu that offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, depending on the time of the day. You might expect that the low costs mean it’s automatically self-service, but I was more than surprised that after a few minutes a friendly waitress came to our table to take our order. We felt like guests at her house and she was inviting us for dinner.
The people working in Lentil as Anything are all volunteers or long-term unemployed. Or backpackers. For two weeks of helping out in the restaurant, backpackers can get free accommodation and, of course, a warm meal. And the meals are not only more nutritious and diversified, but also much healthier than a Big Mac Menu at McDonalds.
One aim of the restaurant is to promote multiculturalism, which is also reflected in the food. It’s basically a mix of everything. One customer is having Indian curry for breakfast, while at another table people are having scrambled eggs with bacon. And, of course, there are vegan meals too. And if you‘re still hungry, you can order the banana pancakes with syrup (which I can only recommend!). Before you leave, you can think about how much money you want to spend and put in in the box. And if you want or if you can’t spend anything at all, then you simply don’t put anything in the box.
Now you may be asking the same question that came to my mind after visiting this place: how can the place survive? Can, in today’s society, such a model make enough money to pay the rent, utilities and stock? Apparently it is. The philosophy has been working for over thirteen years now and in the last five years three new restaurants have been opened.
Surprisingly, people who visit the restaurant are not only homeless or backpackers, but also families with a normal income, who get the chance to take their children to a restaurant to enjoy good food more often. And that‘s how donations are collected.
So, for your next trip remember that a small travel budget does not necessarily have to mean that you can’t afford to eat out in a restaurant – the pay-as-you-feel philosophy is becoming more and more popular in all parts of the world, and who knows, maybe there‘s a similar place at your next destination 😉
Author & pictures: Carina Lamb